Although older adults are living healthier, more productive lives[1. “Living Long & Well in the 21st Century: Strategic Directions for Research on Aging,” https://www.nia.nih.gov/about/living-long-well-21st-century-strategic-directions-research-aging/introduction] than ever before, many suffer from illnesses for which there is no easy remedy. These can include potentially debilitating conditions such as arthritis, sciatica, and diabetes. However, there are ways to address chronic pain in the elderly — without ever leaving home.
One of the most important components in managing chronic pain comes not solely from treating it, but also from preventing it. Even those with advanced conditions may be able to benefit from preventive techniques that can keep their condition from getting worse. Of course, before beginning any pain management program, it’s best to talk to your loved one’s physician. They can tell you which methods might prove most useful, as well as which to avoid.
Most physicians will tell you that the key to pain-free living at any age is a healthy lifestyle, and older adults are no exception. Although they may not be able to make up for the damage of the past (the effects of smoking, for instance, or a lifetime of poor eating habits), they can make the most of their present vitality. A home consult with a nutritionist or an overnight aide to facilitate adequate sleep are excellent places to start. They may also want to hire a day companion to assist with exercise, even if it’s just a short daily walk or stretches.
After preventing chronic pain as much as possible, it’s time to help your loved one address and treat any pain that does surface. It should be done as soon as the pain becomes an issue. The ideal way to handle this at home may be to get a home health aide for the times you can’t be there. This avoids a situation in which you must check up on your loved one 24 hours a day. It also decreases the likelihood that they’ll disguise their pain from you because they didn’t want to “be a bother” or “worry you.”
Being vigilant about recognizing and addressing chronic pain becomes even more important if your loved one has a degenerative cognitive condition. Alzheimer’s is one such example. An Alzheimer’s patient may forget to mention their pain when you visit. Or, if they’re in a later stage of the disease, they may lack the communication skills to explain when and where they’re hurting. A qualified care aide will be knowledgeable in watching for signs of pain in dementia patients, and letting you know when it’s time to do something it. Also, aides can transport your loved to doctors for checkups and further treatments for the pain, notifying you of any changes along the way.
It will come as no surprise that there are a number of medications designed to alleviate pain[2. “Chronic pain medications,” https://www.drugs.com/condition/chronic-pain.html], including opiates, non-opiates, anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids, muscle relaxers, and topical prescriptions. Unfortunately, none of these will be effective if your loved one forgets to take them, takes them in the wrong dosages, or takes them in the wrong combinations. A visiting nurse can provide medication management to make sure these issues don’t occur. He or she can also see that your loved one gets any doctor-recommended vitamins or supplements.
We Do Not Have to Accept Chronic Pain in the Elderly
There’s no reason that chronic pain in the elderly needs to be the epidemic problem that it is. Along with advances in modern medicine, there are ways to prevent, recognize, and treat pain at home. This type of suffering should not be considered a normal part of aging, but instead an issue to be eliminated whenever possible. Discuss some (or all) of the options above with your loved one, and see if there are services available at home that can lessen their suffering.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.